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Blackpool tourism faces challenge from 'sharing economy' says MP

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden has warned that the so-called “sharing economy” could pose a threat to existing seaside hotels and B&Bs if there is no level playing field.

He said that the growth of online platforms such as Airbnb which allow people to rent out rooms to visitors could pose unfair competition to conventional businesses.

He said while many of the rooms were in people’s houses or empty homes, there was evidence that professional lettings businesses were using the platforms to rent out multiple rooms, often in tower blocks.

He said that safety and other regulations which conventional B&Bs had to follow were often absent in the sharing economy versions, potentially leaving visitors at risk and possibly affecting the insurance of people living in blocks of flats where a business was renting them out to tourists.

His comments follow a new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tourism, Leisure and the Hospitality Industry on the Sharing Economy which he chaired.

The report concluded that fair regulations across the tourism industry were needed to take into account the needs of local communities and ensure that all operators of tourism accommodation were paying the appropriate level of taxation and rates.

Mr Marsden said: “While most people think of those making use of these sites as just homeowners renting out rooms, there is growing evidence of businesses using them with multiple listings.”

He said local authorities and fire services do not have records of these premises which could present serious problems.

He said: “Sadly, the Grenfell incident shows what the potential perils in large blocks might be, in terms of safety and security, and particularly not knowing who’s in there.

"And for the residents there is the issue that they might not be covered by fire insurance if their neighbouring property is a business like that."

He said he was first contacted about the issue two years ago by hoteliers in North and South Blackpool concerned that the new online rivals did not have to comply with regulations.

He added: "Apart from safety, there is also the problem we have seen in Blackpool where former hotels have become HMOs (Houses of multiple occupancy). There is the potential for this phenomenon to become another route to HMOs.

"While Airbnb and the others may be suitable for the big cities such as London and Edinburgh, where they are meeting an unmet need, they are less appropriate in sea-side areas already well catered for.

"If we do not have a level playing field it is only going to put even more pressure on existing business."

The All-Party Parliamentary Group report calls for an investigation by the Culture Secretary into the issue to come up with a a low-cost statutory registration scheme for tourism accommodation businesses.

And it says that powers should be given to Councils to set rules regarding the use of residential properties for tourism accommodation so the growth of the tourism is balanced against the needs local communities.